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A Discourse on Discourse

To say that our nation is deeply divided would be akin to saying the Plague was a little bug or that World War II was a tiny skirmish. From every corner of our country, people are taking to Facebook, Twitter, and online communities to share their expertise on everything, from politics and religion, to social and economic issues. That, in and of itself, is a fine thing. The issue is that most of these folks are coming from the perspective that their opinion is the only valid one, and if you disagree then you are an idiot.

This is what happens when the whole world gets a voice.

But honestly, I don’t think much has really changed. If 1860 America had Twitter, I’m sure the political tension would be just as vicious (I recall smear campaigns against Abe Lincoln criticizing him because he looked like a monkey; I can envision the memes now…). We haven’t really changed all that much: we are a society of people with opinions. In days gone by, our upbringing and our personality played a role in how vocal we would become about those opinions. These days, however, the internet has afforded an anonymous platform from which every self-anointed armchair expert can shout their views for all to hear..

Sadly, that simple anonymity has also allowed for the gloves to come off. Instead of civil discourse, angry rage and vicious attacks seem to be the order of the day. While there’s technically nothing wrong with this, I can’t help but feel that a truly decent society would take umbrage with making every political and religious argument a necessary bout of “I’m right, you’re stupid.” It is truly reprehensible, to see how human beings have decided to treat other human beings, all because they feel their opinion is the only valid opinion. And it’s very easy to find a group of others who share your opinion, isn’t it? When you surround yourself with like-minded people, your conviction in your beliefs grows and you become unable to see any other path except the one to which you passionately subscribe. While this may make you secure in your own beliefs, the lack of challenge and discourse eventually breeds an inability to properly defend your position. Thus, you fall back on other tactics. Attacking grammar. Implying stupidity. Making it far too personal.

If a person only ever goes to church, they’re only going get that point of view. You have to engage with others, to have that point of view challenged. It doesn’t have to be so that someone can change your mind. You grow in your belief and your position when you’re forced to defend it or explain it so that others understand.

But in hiding behind our glowing rectangles and squares, we have all but ruined our ability to have productive discourse. The notion that you don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company is now more a necessity than an exercise in social grace. And that’s a shame, because no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, no matter what religious views we hold, we should always be open to discussion on them. We should always be ready to have our views challenged. Defending one’s beliefs is a rigorous exercise that requires truly understanding WHY you believe what you belief. Why do you support this candidate? Why do you follow this faith?

This is explicitly stated for those of a Christian persuasion. “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). I cite this as an example because I am familiar with it, but I would be surprised if most faiths didn’t express a similar sentiment. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Why do you believe what you believe? Too many of us don’t have answer. We blindly accept what we’re taught, blindly accept the “news” we watch on TV or read on Facebook. We don’t challenge it, and we don’t challenge ourselves.

Debate is good. Discourse is good. It’s a healthy, necessary component of an intelligent, functional society. The fact that the vast majority of Americans cannot tell you why they follow Christ, why they’re agnostic, why they’re liberal, why they’re conservative, is incredibly disheartening, and even dangerous to our society. Facebook and Twitter have created a country full of “bumper sticker philosophers” – people who perpetuate short buzz words, phrases, or topics that are expressed in oversimplified terms, that appeal only to emotion and not to intellect. Most of these things cannot stand under thoughtful scrutiny. Yet, we allow them to pervade our news feeds every day, never giving them a thought. The idea of a longer discussion, the idea that maybe I could learn something if I listen to the other side, has been replaced with the very simple, primitive mindset that I am right, and they are wrong.

I am guilty of this. I’ve flooded my Facebook feed with enough political memes to sink a spaceship. I’ve chosen to give that up recently, in the hopes of making more thoughtful posts about issues and maybe stimulating some discussion. Granted, there will still be many people who glance at these and shrug. They’re too busy with their own concerns to worry about it. They have their opinions and that’s that. No room or need for change or growth. That is everyone’s choice, of course. But I’d like to use this space to maybe start some conversations. Because I need to feel like this divided country can come back together again. I know there are people on every side of every argument that hold out that hope. We just need to find each other.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Blogging, Current Events, Faith, Writing

 

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Enter, the Shepard

Welcome to Saint Paul, Virginia.

Nothing ever happens here.  Until the day Jason Shepard comes home.

“Shepard” is my first major creative effort outside of film school, and my first attempt at a web series.  It chronicles the story of Jason Shepard, a one-time rockstar who has lost everything to a string of bad decisions and run-ins with the law (both of which involving copious amounts of alcohol).  After he is cut a break by a sympathetic judge, he finds himself back home, facing a lengthy community service sentence at an old church on the verge of closing its doors.

Inspiration for this story came from a number of places.  I’ve always enjoyed the idea of returning to what you’ve left behind and facing your past.  It’s not an unfamiliar story, that’s true. But the thing about “homecoming” stories is that they are as varied and unique as the individuals who populate their worlds.

Jason doesn’t have much left at home. No family, and no friends.  Just one lingering connection, in the form of an old high school flame that he walked out on after the prom.  And, one new connection, in the form of an aging and very much atypical church pastor, who seems to think Jason would be well-suited for the task of working with the youth group.

I didn’t honestly expect much to come from this series at first.  It seemed like a neat idea, but I never planned on taking it anywhere.  The nascence really came from my own church pastor asking me to work with the youth at our church.  It sparked an idea that has since grown into this web series.

We’ve just begun production, and have two full days of work under our belt.  As things continue, I’ll offer production updates and insights on this blog, and we’ll take a look at the unique cast of characters that populate this small but fascinating world.

Until next time!

 

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Lord, Save Me From Your Followers

My faith has always been an ill-tended garden.  It’s an unfortunate truth, one that I’ve kept fairly well hidden.  With the onset of my anxiety issues, however, I’ve been forced to really look inward and examine my beliefs.  For if I really had faith in what I claim to believe, I really shouldn’t be having anxiety problems.  That was my initial thought, though it proved to be untrue.

God has always been in the background of my life.  Ever since those early days when my mom and dad took me to church.  I never wanted to go to.  I locked myself in the bathroom because I didn’t want to attend Sunday school.  When I got older, I went to a youth group called the Boy’s Brigade (sort of like Boy Scouts).  I even went to a Christian school.

I didn’t realize at the time but my education through these places was never actually very thorough.  I learned all the cliche’s and buzz words (“born again”, “get saved”, “sinner’s prayer”, “altar call” and so on).  I learned all about the evils of the occult, rock music, and Hallowe’en.  I learned about how I was a sinner and would go to hell unless I accepted Christ.  I had Bible classes as part of the curriculum.  We prayed before classes.  We had chapel services on Wednesdays.

I prayed the magic sinner’s prayer in sixth grade.  And probably about ten times a year after that.  But I didn’t know what I was doing.  I did it because people said I should, or else I’d go to hell.  I was never offered a proper explanation.  It was never explained just what this prayer was supposed to do or mean, other than “Now Jesus lives in your heart.”

Really?  That’s it?

It boiled down to a number’s game.  There was a singular focus: get people saved.  It didn’t matter if they really understood their decision.  All of that would come in time.  They just need to pray this prayer and get saved.  That was the focus, so little effort was spent in quantifying the decision or properly educating someone who prayed the magic prayer regarding what they were supposed to do.  No one is ever told how hard it’s going to be.  It’s pitched like a magic fix for the worst of problems.

The issue here is that we end up with a bunch of spiritually immature believers with little to no guidance or understanding, who are left to go out and continue the sales/recruiting process.  These people go out into all the world to follow what they were told was the focus of Christ’s message.  But they fail.  Because they cannot withstand the criticisms and challenges of skeptics.  Their beliefs can never truly take root, so they have no real defense.  They are left with a tenuous framework of belief tenets, a list of stuff they should avoid and a list of cliche’s with which to do the recruiting.  That’s it.

I don’t mean any of that literally, of course.  And I’m sure many of these people who are out there trying to “save” others are good people who are trying to do the right thing.  The problem is they aren’t really looking at the big picture.  They don’t know Christ; instead, they know what his message is according to what they were told.  They don’t question.  They don’t wonder.  They accept it all on blind faith – irresponsible blind faith.

Growing up in the midst of all this, it’s no wonder at all that eventually I fell away from it.  Looking at this approach as an adult, with a certain degree of wisdom and experience, I can easily trace my path from that kid in the private school to the adult plagued with doubts and questions.  I’ve always had discontent in my spirit about many of these things.  None of it has ever seemed right.  I’ve recently realized my real issue with Christianity wasn’t necessarily believing in God or in Christ… it was the people who claimed they do.

Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  I cannot find better words to describe the current state of Christianity in this country, and in the world at large.  So many people who claim to be Christians are the exact opposite.  Not only do they often fail to communicate the message of Christ, half the time they’re communicating the wrong message altogether.  Almost every public face of this faith has been brought down in the last few decades, or they’ve had a PR faux pas that has ruined their ministry.  They act so holy, pretend to be perfect in the public eye… but eventually their sin catches up.  And since they don’t preach a message that says “Hey, we are Christian but we still screw up, we don’t have all the answers” they are judged fiercely by the public, thus reflecting poorly on the whole.  (I won’t even get into the war-mongering Christians who want to obliterate others; needless to say, wars have been fought in the name of Christ.)

If I were an outsider looking for something higher to believe in, I’d have a hard time accepting Christianity.  Its people behave in a way that is in direct contrast to the message of the faith.  I certainly don’t expect perfection – but a lot of people who claim to be Christians aren’t even in the right ballpark.

Yet as much as I cannot abide organized Christianity, I also cannot dismiss the faith it is supposed to represent.  It is unique from other faiths in that it is not based upon teachings, but a person.  You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and still have his teachings.  You can remove the person of Muhammad and still have the teachings of Islam.  But if you attempt to remove the person of Christ from Christianity, you completely lose Christianity.  The faith is tied directly into the person, not the teaching.

It comes down to this: either Christ was who he claimed to be, or he wasn’t.  It’s a very direct question, isn’t it?  It’s a “yes” or “no” answer.  And this answer forms the basis of the absoluteness of the faith.  There is no middle ground, no room for interpretation.  There can be no “Jesus was a good earthly teacher or prophet, but he wasn’t the son of God.”  Why?  Think about it – this guy claimed to be the Son of God.  Which means one of two things: either he really was… or he was a lunatic with a death wish.  Who in their right mind would stroll into the biggest city in Israel, the very front door of the teachers of the law, and claim to be the Son of God?  I don’t care how uplifting his teachings were, he must have been out of his mind.  Or he must have been right.  It’s one or the other.  It can’t be both.

I’m digressing a bit, and I apologize.  The point to all of this, I suppose, is not to judge the whole by the rantings of a few.  I can assure you there are thousands of people out there who would call themselves Christians, who are thoughtful, responsible, tolerant, and helpful.  I’m still working out my own faith.  Still analyzing and questioning (which, if you read the scriptures in context, we are encouraged to do) because that is how you grow.  I regret that the public perception of this faith is so negative, because the heart of it is the exact opposite.  And I regret that I let myself be led down shallow, unfulfilling paths instead of being more discerning.

I’ll write more on the subject another time.  I think the real message of Christ is getting skewed by these salesmen who are hunting for bigger numbers.  But that’s a message for another day.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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